China’s former top leader Hu Jintao was unexpectedly expelled from the closing ceremony of the Communist Party Congress on Saturday, in a moment of drama during what is usually a highly choreographed event.
Hu, 79, was sitting in a prominent position at the front table in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, right next to his successor, current leader Xi Jinping, when he was approached by a staff member, video of the meeting shows.
Seated, Hu appeared to be speaking briefly to the male staff member while China’s third senior leader, Li Zhanshu, seated on his other side, had his hand on the chair behind Hu’s back.
Hu then appeared to rise after being picked up by the staff member who took the former leader by the arm while Kong Shaoxun, head of the party secretariat, walked over. Hu spoke briefly to the two men and at first seemed unwilling to leave.
Hu was then escorted from his seat by the two men, with the staff member holding his arm while other party members seated behind the main table looked at him. The circumstances of Hu’s departure are unclear.
On his way out, Hu paused and seemed to say something to Xi, then patted Premier Li Keqiang on the shoulder. Both Xi and Li seemed to nod. It was not clear what Xi replied.
At one point, while Hu was still seated, Xi appeared to put his hand on a document that Hu was trying to reach to stop him.
At another moment, after Hu got up and apparently scolded the two men before walking out, Li Zhanshu appeared to be trying to get up from his seat, but was caught by a tug on his suit jacket by Wang, a member of the Standing Politburo Committee, headed back down Huning, sitting next to him.
Hu, who retired in 2013, has been seen in public with increasingly frail health in recent years.
Due to the opaqueness of China’s elite politics, the party is unlikely to offer a public explanation for Hu’s sudden departure. The dramatic moment has not been reported anywhere in Chinese media or discussed on Chinese social media, where such talks are severely restricted. But it has sparked a firestorm of speculation overseas.
CNN was censored on the air in China when it reported on Hu’s departure from Saturday’s meeting.
Hu’s departure came after more than 2,000 congressional delegates gave their blessing to new members of the party’s elite Central Committee during a private session and before delegates were asked to approve the party’s working report during a session open to journalists.
The newly announced 205-member Central Committee did not include Li Keqiang and his colleague Wang Yang, both of whom are considered Hu’s protégés. That means neither will retain their seat on the Standing Committee, the party’s top decision-making body, even though both are 67, a year short of the unofficial retirement age. Xi, who is 69, will join the list of new Central Committee members.
The composition of the Standing Committee will be announced on Sunday, one day after the close of the Congress. Xi, who is widely believed to have consolidated power by eliminating rivals and dampening the lingering influence of party elders, is expected to be reconfirmed as party leader and surrounding himself with allies in a norm-breaking move.